There is a popular notion among many of Silicon Valley’s biggest tech names that age does matter. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg famously once said that "young people are just smarter" at a conference in 2007. It’s not surprising that Facebook, along with Twitter, Google, Microsoft, have all faced public suits and notoriety on age-related matters. It wasn’t long before Apple joined that list too.
According to an editorial by The New York Times, ageism or age discrimination is actually very real and very common. The author of the editorial took the example of ex-Apple engineer J.K. Scheinberg who interviewed for a position of a customer support representative at the Apple Genius Bar. Scheinberg worked for Apple from 1987 to 2008 and was responsible for the first builds of OS X for Intel processors.
"On the way out, all three of the interviewers singled me out and said, 'We'll be in touch,'" Scheinberg said. "I never heard back.” He was 54 when he applied for the job at the Apple Store.
Age is just a number
Scheinberg’s case isn’t an isolated incident. Apple Insider cites another case where back in back in 2010, a 60-year-old Apple Store employee, Michael Katz, sued the company for promoting a less senior and, according to him, less qualified employee for the role of "Creative" at the Orlando, Florida store. Of course, in that case, Katz was already working at the Apple Store, and was evidently not denied candidacy.
"Each individual selected for the promotions sought by Katz was at least 15 years younger than Katz,” the complaint stated. "Katz was passed over for promotion multiple times in favor of individuals with less seniority and inferior qualifications.”
New grads wanted
In 2012, Apple began including the term “new grad” in job postings. This made it clear as daylight that Apple, among others, was favoring young, relatively inexperienced minds rather than go for someone with years of experience.
The popular belief that younger minds are full of ideas and creativity speaks out loud here. This belief has been voiced by venture capitalist and co-founder of Sun Microsystems Vinod Khosla, who said “people over 45 basically die in terms of new ideas.” Ironically, Khosla was 55 at the time of his remark.
Both Zuckerberg and Khosla have since retracted their statements and have claimed that they were misinterpreted.
Why it matters
It’s perhaps not surprising these days to hear of start up firms hiring people straight out of college. Indeed, it’s a great way for young employees to get some experience under their belts before they hit 25. But the growing attraction towards younger candidates is resulting in a general fall in average working age in many countries.
Laurie A. McCann, an AARP Foundation attorney, Citing a Fortune magazine article, said "the median age of employees at Twitter is just 28, and at Facebook, and Google, the median age is 29. When compared to a median age of 42 for the workforce overall, the message is stark -- older workers are persona non grata in technology."
Age discrimination is illegal and yet it continues to persist today. It’s necessary for firms like Apple, Google and others alike to acknowledge this prejudice and to confront ageism by including senior job seekers rather than outing them altogether.